If you’ve freelanced for a while, you may have hit the rut where you feel like you’re always busy, but you’re not bringing in enough income. You’ve done this long enough that you’re not an amateur. But you haven’t reached a level where you feel like you’ve got this freelancing thing down.
When you get to this place, there are some shifts you need to make in your business. There are things that we’re ok to do when you were starting out, and maybe even necessary, but you can’t do them anymore. Those beginner methods are holding you back from going to the next level.
This article is intended for intermediate freelancers. If you’re just starting out in freelancing, I recommend this other article I wrote on the first steps to take:
I’ve been freelancing for about 10 years as a web designer and marketing consultant, and I made many of these transitions too late. That’s what kept me from growing for so long. I wrote about those freelancing mistakes here. You also don’t want to make this transition too early. But generally, if you have a somewhat consistent amount of clients coming in, but you feel like you’re working a lot, working harder to find those clients, and not making enough money, then you might be ready to level up.
Here are the next steps.
Narrow down your ideal clients and services
When you’re just starting out, you basically take whoever you can get. You need clients and money. But as you progress, that mentality will only hold you back.
To grow your freelance career, you need to limit who you work with and what you offer.
The main reason is to increase your income by maximizing your time. You don’t want to waste it on small clients with small jobs. Determine your ideal client by their budget and your ideal services by how much they would cost. This will ensure you only work on projects that bring in the money that’s worth the time you put in.
Another reason is your brand and reputation. Referrals, testimonials, and your portfolio will determine who your next clients are. Working with a random assortment of people won’t bring in the people you want to work with. But if you limit yourself to a specific type of client and service, you establish yourself as a brand — the go-to person for that industry.
For years, I advertised myself as doing websites and marketing for anyone — small businesses, nonprofits, corporations, freelancers… literally anyone. It was a scary move to limit myself to who I truly wanted to work with — nonprofits. I made the switch and can now say with authority and credibility that I help nonprofits grow. I still will work with other types of organizations, but nonprofits are who I’m advertising to, who my portfolio is made up of, and who my testimonials are coming from. A potential nonprofit client can then look at me and have greater confidence that I know their industry.
Create set priced packages and tiers
The idea of having fixed prices versus custom quotes is debated in the freelancing world. It does depend on what you do and who you work with. But from my experience, both as a client and as a freelancer, I’ve always preferred fixed prices, or at the very least, price ranges.
The major benefit is that it helps eliminate inquiries and consultations that are clearly out of the price range for the client. I’ve had countless wasted phone calls and coffee meetings where the client and I get excited over a website that will cost a few thousand dollars, but then we find out they were only expecting to pay a couple of hundred dollars. Having prices publicly displayed on my website lets potential clients know how much they should expect to pay, and the ones that contact me have the budget for it.
After working with a few clients, you also get an idea of what most of them need and what you’re willing to do. Create a packaged service with different pricing tiers of what most clients have done, or what would be best for them. This helps reduce the back and forth of figuring out what they need, along with establishing trust from your client because you’re showing that you know what they need. Of course, additional features and custom pricing can be negotiated, but it gives a good starting point.
Create recurring options
One of the biggest struggles for freelancers is the feast and famine cycle. You might work really hard on a project and have a big payday. But when the project is done, you have to go out and look for new clients while trying to make that paycheck stretch. Or there might be a season when you are fully booked with work, followed by a season of no work.
This can lead to a pretty stressful life in the long run. One of the best solutions to this is to have recurring income, and the easiest source is from your existing clients.
Take a look at the projects you do and see if there is a service you can offer on a monthly basis. It could be maintenance and management. Or perhaps it’s performing that service at regular intervals. Maybe it’s just an availability option — they pay monthly, and you perform as many minor tasks for them as they need.
Find a few recurring options that make sense as a followup service for your clients, and present it to them after a project is completed. If they had a good experience, they’ll be likely to want to keep working with you. It doesn’t have to be expensive either. As you work with more clients and a good number of them become recurring ones, you’ll gradually build up a nice monthly income that can help weather those famines.
Develop a marketing strategy
Some freelancers are able to get continuous work through word-of-mouth and referrals. But for most, it’s usually not enough to keep consistent clients coming in.
Other than cold-calling (which most people hate doing), marketing is essential to reach new customers. Marketing should be seen as a long-term strategy that requires consistency and patience. You can’t just throw up some Facebook posts and expect people to contact you.
How you market all depends on your ideal client and your industry. It could mean the major social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. It might mean content marketing such as blogs or YouTube videos. Or it could be actively participating in online groups and forums.
Whatever your platform is, a successful marketing strategy requires you to be consistent. Your marketing content should be a mix of your work, customer stories, helpful tips, and information about yourself
Hire people to assist you
As a freelancer, you’re a solo business owner. That means there are a lot of business things you have to do that aren’t related to the actual service you provide and you may not be that good at — things like accounting or website maintenance.
There are also things that are part of your skillset that may just be tedious to do, but you have to do them as part of the project you deliver.
As you grow in your freelance career and attract more clients, you’ll realize that you don’t have the time to do all that. The time your spend on business operations or tedious tasks may actually keep you away from being able to work on more large projects. Hiring someone to help offload those tasks will free you up to focus on your core skills.
As a freelance web designer, I’ve hired someone to help with the initial setup of installing the site, adding content, and doing basic layouts. It’s a process that’s tedious and fairly standard for all website builds. Then I do the actual design of the website.
I have a friend who is a freelance wedding photographer. After an event, she’s left with thousands of photos to go through — not the best use of her time. So she hired an assistant to review and tag the photos, sort out the best ones, and apply basic edits and filters. She then goes in to do the final touches and deliver the product.
For most freelancers, you enjoy being able to use your skill — so you’re not outsourcing that. You’re outsourcing everything else so you can focus on what you do best. If you’re hesitant because of cost, think of it this way. Say you work on a large project and it comes out to roughly $100/hour. Part of that project, on your end, could include tracking your expenses, entering data, some repetitive computer work… is that really worth $100/hour.?
Your time is your most valuable asset, so hiring someone to do the tedious work for cheaper means your time is freed up to take on the higher-skilled portion of the projects, and subsequently also be able to take on more projects.
You don’t have to make all these shifts at once. Gradually make the switch as you feel comfortable, but inevitably you will need to transition if you want to grow.
Freelancing is being the CEO of your own business, and as CEO, you need to make the decision to do things differently if you want to grow your business. The cost of freelancing the same way will eventually end in frustration and failure. Being able to adapt and change as your business grows will elevate your freelancing career.